Freezing Cheese and Dairy Products
If you're like me who likes to keep in stock some of the handy food ingredients in the kitchen, then you need to know how to freeze foods the right way. Freezing is one of the best ways to prolong the storage life of foods. It prevents microbial growth that spoil food and slows down undesirable chemical reactions. Some of the frozen foods we stuff our freezers at home with are baked goods, orange juice, pizzas, vegetables, meat and pre-cooked meals. How about cheese and dairy products? Can we freeze cheese, yogurt and butter, too? If yes, what is the proper way of freezing these dairy products? Does it affect food quality after thawing?
Dairy products, including cheese and milk, can be successfully frozen to extend their shelf life. How? Here are some of the materials that you need when you're thinking of freezing foods: airtight containers, moisture-proof freezer bags, aluminum foil or cling wrap, vacuum-seal kit, sticker label or waterproof pen for labeling.
The general steps involved in freezing foods include selection, preparation, packaging, labeling, storing / freezing and thawing.
Select: Avoid cheeses with dry or cracked edges, with mold or cheeses that appear greasy on the surface. It is best to choose to freeze cheese on the date of purchase and check the date to make sure that it hasn't expired.
The best cheeses to freeze are hard and semi-hard cheeses (has 30-45% water content) like Brick, Camembert, Cheddar, Edam, Mozzarella, Muenster, Parmesan, Provolone, Romano and Swiss. Though the texture may become crumbly or mealy when defrosted, it should still taste good and work fine with cooking. Soft cheeses like cottage cheese and ricotta cheese do not freeze well because of its high water content (over 45%).
Prepare: Hard and semi-hard cheeses can be grated, sliced, or cut into blocks for freezing. It is actually better to grate cheese before freezing because it is more difficult to grate after thawing. Cutting it into smaller pieces is also better because large pieces tend to crumble when thawed and doing so gives you the option to just thaw what you need. In general, it is not recommendable to refreeze foods.
Pack: If you can keep the original packaging of the cheese, do so. However, you can wrap blocks or slices of cheese tightly in cling wrap or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Alternatively, you can pack them in freezer bags and vacuum seal it. Separate slices of cheese with wax paper before freezing. Grated cheese stores well in freezer bags or airtight containers. It is important to assure airtightness or vacuum-sealing to prevent evaporation which causes the food to dry out and to freeze burn.
Label and Store: Take note of the date when the food is placed in the freezer. Soft cheese and cheese spreads and dips can be frozen for 1 month. Hard and semi-hard cheese can be stored for 3 to 6 months.
Thawing instructions: Thaw the cheeses in the refrigerator - from frozen to chilled - don't let it thaw at room temperature. To bring out its full flavour, cheese should always be served at room temperature. Remove it from the fridge at least an hour before serving and keep it loosely wrapped.
Cream cheese and Mascarpone freeze well; if it becomes crumbly and slightly separated, whip it vigorously with a wire whisk while still very cold before using. Frozen grated cheddar can be sprinkled onto pizzas or gratins (without thawing) as it will melt in the oven.
Butter can also be frozen perfectly. So, what's gonna keep you from purchasing more when it is on sale?
Select: Choose fresh, high-quality butter.
Prepare: If you prefer, cut it into small blocks for smaller portion packaging. Use clean hands and utensils in the preparation.
Pack: Keep it in its original packaging. If you're packaging it into smaller portions, be sure to use moisture-proof material and seal it tightly to prevent it from absorbing other odor or flavor in the freezer. Keeping it airtight would also keep it from turning rancid.
Label and Store: Label it with the date of packaging and store it in the freezer. It can keep from 3-6 months.
Thawing instructions: Thaw the butter unopened in its package. It can be used in the same way as fresh butter.
It is okay to freeze yogurt, too. One question to ask is "How does it affect the good bacteria in it that is supposed to benefit our digestion upon eating yogurt?" The culture do not die but only become dormant when frozen. Once thawed either in the refrigerator or upon eating, they will become live and active again. So, freezing doesn't affect the health benefit of eating yogurt.
To freeze yogurt,: Buy fresh yogurt from the store. No extra preparation is necessary. It is best to keep it in its original packaging, label it and keep it in the freezer. Though it will last long in the freezer, better to consume it not more than 3 months after.
Thawing instructions: Thaw it thoroughly in the fridge and whisk before using in your recipes like sauces and marinades. The texture may be somewhat different, there might be a slight separation of the solids from the liquid. You may either pour off some or all of the liquid, or whisk it back in.
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